Tuesday, June 07, 2005
Yorick had it right....
Next up is the not-unexpected format change of NYC's WCBS-FM from oldies to the so-called "Jack" format. "Jack" of course is the flavor of the month in radio, allowing on-air talent to be dispensed with for the most part (about the only time on-air talent being needed of course would be for news and station identification), a very attactive option to the penurious folks at Infinity. Most of WCBS-FMs on-air talent was locally famous, but nationally obscure (the only one definitely known nationally would've been Micky Dolenz, lately morning man, and the only other possibility would've been "Cousin Brucie" Morrow, probably only to Beatlemaniacs). The reason I thought the format change was not unexpected was of course the totally directionless playlist that had been implemented, sounding like the faceless suburban oldies stations, much more 70s content that I didn't like the first time around (I mean, come on, who really wants to hear "Billy Don't Be A Hero" again?), dropping some of the features that actually gave the station some personality (the late lamented "Doo Wop Shop" was perhaps the best deep dive into that genre ever) and just in general having a feeling of lassitude about the programming that was screaming "Impending Format Change".
Not that WCBS-FM was perfect, far from it. The program directors were absolutely criminal in their choice of playlist. Stuff like "Sugar Shack", "Mr. Lee" and "Take A Letter Maria" getting on ad nauseum, when the Stax catalog was ignored, no Yardbirds, Who, the Beatles choices were painfully obvious, likewise the Motown selections (a bit heavy on the Motown lately for my taste, but then again, I've always made it known that I prefer Stax). Sometimes they went a bit too far in recreating the ambience of the old AM stations, which were of course incredibly annoying - especially the Top 40 era of WABC - hearing Ron Lundy and Dan Ingram was fun for a few times, then it got stale, fast.
The interesting thing of course was the Arbitrons. WCBS was pretty high up in the Arbs from what I could see (#8 in the city overall, certainly way better than classic rock WAXQ, which was tied for #15). The only music stations that were besting WCBS-FM were urban contemporary, Spanish and adult contemporary, formats which hold no appeal to me at all). It really gets interesting when you compare it to WQXR, the city's classical music station (and herein lies a minor rant). WQXR is tied for #18, surely the equivalent of Purgatory in the advertising sales game, and has a demographic that skews in the general vicinity of Polident and Depends buyers. However, that demographic is also rich older Manhattan folks who tend to go to the opera, and hence if you are an opera fan, WQXR is the place for you. If you aren't an opera fan, listening to WQXR will give you an interminable headache. Puccini, Rossini, the Luftwaffe Serenade, all of your favorite screeching and shrieking. I utterly loathe opera (and I should state forcefully that I love classical and baroque music).
The question of course is how in any sort of rational analysis is WCBS changing its format when it's one of the only music two stations in the top 10 that isn't catering to the hip-hop demographic? Surely WQXR would be a better candidate for a format change, and if you listen to the longer programs, they tend to be sponsored by oil companies and such, outfits that underwrite this sort of thing as a feelgood community service kind of thing rather than actually advertising. I suspect of course that the reason WQXR stays in business is the fact that it is indeed the Radio Station of The Sulzberger Entity (as it so often reminds you in hushed pretentious tones), and that the Sulzbergers don't mind its drag as they probably feed advertising in from the paper's pipeline to subsidize the content (not to mention catering to their Upper West Side core audience). Unfortunately, anyone in the music business will tell you that classical is about the biggest money-loser out there (Slobbovian folk dances probably make more than classical), and if a classical record sells more than 5K copies, it's a bloody miracle. Funny how music with proven staying power has been marginalized to the point that it requires subsidies to air (and of course with those subsidies come the insidious viewpoints of the Sulzberger editorialists and the NEA types). Funny how even commercial music with proven staying power cannot survive in a commercial environment, unless it's wishy-washy dentist office stuff.